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Uyuni and the Salt Flats

Uyuni, Bolivia

So we finally made it to Uyuni, a small and pretty unattractive town which seems to be in existance simply for the purpose of being the departure point for the salt flat tours. We arrived in the late afternoon so checked swiftly into a hostel and then went out into the town to try and book a tour for the next day. The streets were lined with tour guides all offering the same trip so it was a fairly easy task. There were eight of us altogether and the jeeps only hold six, but luckily we found a company with two jeeps, one of which already had four English people booked onto it - therefore working out perfectly. It is absolutely freezing in Uyuni and I remebered Lals telling me that she needed all the layers she could get when actually on teh salt flat tour so we all headed to the market stalls and each bought another alpaca jumper and some thick gloves before heading for a very nice supper.
We met our driver at 10am the next morning - having been told he spoke a little English, it quickly became apparent that this was not the case! Luckily our Dutch friend DJ was in our truck and he spoke pretty fluent Spanish so we had a translator at least.
The first day of the tour was by far the best as this is when we saw the salt flats themselves, but before arrving there we made a quick visit to Uyuni´s train cemetary. It´s a fabulous place just outside the town where all the old and out of use trains have been dumped. It´s very strange to be driving through the desert and then come across a large expanse of rusting locamotives. It made for some great photos though; lots of running train robberies and bandits taking capture of damsels in distress! After about half and hour there we then jumped back in the jeep and headed to the Salar. Words can´t really describe it and it feels like you´re on a different planet. All you can see for literally miles is an expanse of flat white topped by clear, blue skies. Again the photo opportunities were endless. Before lunch we had seen a salt refinery, a salt hotel (literally made out of compressed blocks of salt with salt layering the floor) and a huge island in the middle of the flats covered in cacti, many of which were over about 15 foot tall. It was here, where we stopped for lunch, that we all got the chance to take the famous perspective photos - we had brought a toy dinosaur specially for this purpose so spent hours playing around with that. The boys wanted to take an evolution style picture so stripped off in the middle of the salt flats to pose for probably the best photo I have ever taken!
That evening we were left by our driver in the middle of the flats so we could watch the sunset over the salt. He went to our hostel to srop our bags off and start on supper and so we were left literally in the middle of no-where with no civilisation for as far as the eye could see. We had some portable speakers so we put some music on, some boys played chess and other catch and just took in the surealness of where we were as the sun went down. Absolutely beautiful.
We rose at 6am the next day for breakfast and soon after set out for the second day of the tour. The day was filled with beautiful lakes, multicoloured mountains and cool rock formations and we even saw flamingos right at the end of the day which was a bonus as in winter they migrate and apparently quite rare to see at the time of year we were doing the tour. For the second night we stayed in another very basic hostel with not a lot of insulation or hot water. Fairly shortly after supper and some cards most of us headed to bed as it was simply too cold to stay up. I went to bed wearing two vest tops, a long sleeve t-shirt, another t-shirt, two alapaca jumpers, a hoodie, gloves, a hat, leggings, long pj bottoms, two pairs of socks and leg warmers, and I was sleeping in a sleeping bag with three rugs yet for about three hours I was still too cold to sleep! I thought the Inca Trail had been cold but this was something else. I was told the next day that it had reached around the -20 degrees mark....wow!
The next morning we woke even earlier to have breakfast and then set off to the see the sunrise of the geysers nearbye. These were pretty cool - holes in the ground filled with bubbling mud with thick plumes of steam rising up from them. Great to see but the absolutely stank or rotten egg! It was freezing at this time in the morning too so after jumping out of the jeep to take some quick photos we ran back again to huddle in the relative warmth of the vehicle. After this we came to the hot springs where there´s a natural pool you can get in to feel the water. I didn´t fancy stripping off in the cold air but the boys all braved it and reported that it was definitely worth it. I put my fingers in and it really was like bath water.
After one more lake we had come to the end of the tour and were taken by our driver to the Bolivian-Chilean border where we were to catch another bus to San Pedro de Attacama. This was maybe my most interesting border crossing yet. Having completely forgotten that many countries tax you to leave I had only had a little bit of Bolivian money on me. When I tried to explian this to the border man (obviously in very poor Spanish) he thought I was trying to do something dodgy so snatched my passport out of my hand and locked it in his drawer. I, unsurprisingly, went mad at him and demanded it back immediately (again, poor Spanish!) which he would only do when my friend bailed me out. I have no idea when would have happened if they hadn´t been there!
San Pedro was absolutely gorgeous and had it not been so expensive I would have loved to stay longer. It was clealry built on tourism as the only things there were hostels, restaurants, souvenir shops and tour guides but the central square was just adorable as were the buildings and dusty streets. We all only stayed one night there as we were all running short of time too. I had originally planned to cross the border into Argentina to a city called Salta but buses only ran there on certain days and I couldn´t afford to wait until the next one so I decided to stick with the boys and take a 24 hours bus down to Valparaiso, a lovely seaside city two hours west of Santiago.

permalink written by  veritykent on June 19, 2009 from Uyuni, Bolivia
from the travel blog: Up, up and away
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Hi Verity, it sounds like you had a great time, if very very cold! I'm currently working on a salt flats tour provider ranking website. I'd really appreciate it if you could spare 2 minutes to fill in our review form for the salt flats tour you did so that other people booking can easily choose a tour company that's what they want. You'll find the form at www.triptiv.com/uyunisaltflats/submitreview . You can see our comparison pages at www.triptiv.com/uyunisaltflats . Thank you! Cat

permalink written by  Cat Jones on June 20, 2009

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